Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman’s Skull is a bloody-brutal, bloody-barbaric, blood-bloody-bloody Brazilian midnighter that emphasizes over-the-top deaths. A simple concept and to-the-point execution anchors focus on an ancient berzerker summoned by those who should not harness such monstrous powers. Scene after scene is slathered in Maniac-grade sleaziness, as innocents feed a bloodlust that frequently results in kills that’ll have you mouthing “what the f*ck” after another victim’s tailbone stabs into the next poor clubgoer’s cranium. Awaken the devil? You get the horns, alright.
In 1944, Nazis did some bad Nazi stuff and attempted to use the Mask of Anhangá for evil…as Nazis do. Skip ahead to modern times, and the mask arrives in Sao Paulo after being unearthed by archeologists. There are still some believers in the purest race, and Anhangá is still an object of attention, which gets a lot of bystanders killed. The mask possesses a random body, unleashing a Pre-Columbian God named Tahawantinsupay, who terminates anyone standing/fornicating/protecting a church in his path. Godspeed Officer Beatriz Obdias (Natallia Rodrigues), the hero tasked with defeating Tahawantinsupay.
Admittedly, Skull gets away with flimsier narrative structures because practical effects are that knockout-gratifying. As the mask chooses its host, and viewers teleport to a netherworld realm complete with a skeletal diety, the “ritual” motivation loses weight. Businessman Tack Waelder (Ivo Müller) plays an obvious European villain, and kidnapped Bolivian children are mentioned throughout the film who never see substantial camera time, making this cinematic experience all about cruelty-forward massacres. Pulpy, almost pornographic depictions of ridiculous violence that go above and beyond what audiences ask of their indie slashers (thank you).
Without “Skull Man’s” proficient slaughter-spree that’s influenced by brute “shape” figures like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, Skull would be an underdeveloped mess. As is, Fonseca and Furman recognize scripted shortcomings and reward audiences by letting blood rain from the sky. No single corpse tossed onto the film’s body pile is mutilated in the same way. Any filmmaker can cue up a machete-to-the-head stab, but a better movie – like Skull – has its killer retrieve said machete and finish the deed with a full face-off tear. Why? Because Skull doesn’t want to be just any slasher. Skull cracks rib cages open and stomp-squishes heads and adds accentuating gratuity onto “simpler” kills. Think back to when you were a kid, sneaking horror movies after bedtime in hopes that mom wouldn’t walk downstairs – this is the kind of disgusting, ambitious, and despicably playful title that’d get you grounded for weeks.
The rules of Skull are hard to follow, which returns to my previous comment about narrative shortcomings. At times, this can be a beneficial stray from slasher norms that embraces goofiness. When Skull Man extends his blade-weapon via elasticity tissue attachments like he’s Spider-Man but with projectile tendons? Hilarious, out of nowhere, and please give me more without explanation. Another dive into the red-filtered rift where an entity with ruby-gemstone eyes rules like a cousin of the Crypt Keeper (with concrete blocks as a crown)? Give me that sweet, sanguine colorization. Ask me to explain the engraved femur staff, why a priest grabs the hand of a crucifixion statue to reveal a sword and the blood-drip countdown? Neither mine nor the film’s forte.
Performances range in quality, but primary players like Natallia Rodrigues’ cop-procedural badass carry us through. Rurik Jr., credited as “Skull,” embodies a centuries-old supernatural assassin with the imposition of black magic indestructibility. In a splatterfest that’s anti-Nazi and pro-representation, what we expect is what we get down to the renegade outsider who hunts “Skull” and “patches” bullet wounds with tampons (never taking the bullet out). It’s outrageous and sometimes cheesy (the seriousness of Rodrigues), but that’s what drives home midnighter madness. Horror conceptualization that rushes directly into danger and doesn’t flinch.
Skull “cuts” right to the chase, with confidence, and maybe that’s where my admiration and respect stems. Flamethrowers. Bazookas. Possessed masks with spikey features. Gallons upon lakes upon oceans of blood pouring from countless wounds. A “monkey’s paw” human hand that acts as a compass. It might not all glue together in a way that evokes Brazil’s first A24-ish, big-thinky horror experience, but sometimes you crave a beer, Brazil’s equivalent to pizza, and a goregasmic slasher that doesn’t apologize for its desires. Which, thankfully, are ever-so visually and audibly apparent (so much “slurpy” liquid sound design).
Skull hacks, slashes, squishes, and severs its way to midnighter memorability as death comes at a premium in this gloriously gory practical effects showcase.